Nurses in Guelph hospital say they're being denied protective N95 masks

The union that represents nurses says it's heard from staff at Guelph General Hospital that nurses aren't allowed to have N95 masks. The hospital says it's following the province's directive on who should have access to the masks.

Guelph General Hospital says it’s following provincial direction on who needs masks

Guelph General Hospital says it's following the province's directive when it comes to who gets N95 masks. The hospital says that means 'staff are to use surgical masks except when aerosol-generating medical procedures are required.' (Nicholas Pfosi/Reuters)

Nurses at Guelph General Hospital are being told they don't need certain masks to do their work, the union that represents them says.

But the hospital says it's following provincial direction when it comes to N95 masks, which are respiratory masks that users can mold to nose piece at the top to create a better seal around the nose and mouth area.

Nurses raised the concern with the union after hearing about nurses and other staff members at Kitchener's St. Mary's General Hospital who were potentially at risk after being possibly exposed to a patient who was being treated in the hospital before testing positive for COVID-19. 

Sheree Bond, the media relations officer for the Ontario Nurses' Association, said they've received reports that the N95 masks are locked up or kept in a manager's office.

"Nurses must ask for one and are being told they are not needed," Bond said.

Following provincial directives

A statement from the hospital said they're meeting all safety standards when it comes to personal protective equipment.

The hospital "is following the directives provided by the provincial chief medical officer of health related to the use of [personal protective equipment]  and caring for suspect or confirmed COVID-19 patients," the statement said. "The directives say since the virus is spread through droplet, staff are to use surgical masks except when aerosol-generating medical procedures are required."

The hospital says surgical masks and other items of protective equipment "are readily available."

"We understand there is heightened anxiety at this time and will continue to work with our staff to ensure all know how they can access the right [personal protective equipment] when needed," the statement said.

'Need confidence in their own safety'

Bond said the union continues to advocate to the province for nurses to have access to N95 masks and pointed to a March 13 press release where the union raised concerns the province was "watering down guidelines regarding the appropriate level of personal protective equipment for front-line health-care workers."

"It is imperative that front-line health-care staff have complete confidence in their own safety and access to full protective equipment and training in order to do the best for patients," the release said.

A week ago, hospitals in Waterloo region said while they currently have enough supplies, that could change and if anyone had extra N95 masks sealed in boxes or hand sanitizer, to get in touch with the hospitals' purchasing departments.